Don’t Shoot Your Gods

Lately I have been asked to describe my management style. I have a two-part belief system on this topic. First and foremost, roles and responsibilities are best clarified early and often. I have been known to blow up my own job description to very large type and place it at the front of the notebook I use every day. I use the job description as a compass: if a particular activity begins to feel too far afield or ill-aligned, I check it against this succinct list of big picture responsibilities. If the list itself needs updating, I simply bring it to my supervisor or partners at an appropriate time and we revise it together. Likewise, it is critical to review roles and responsibilities of those I supervise. Grievances can often be resolved through simple role clarification. The RACI matrix (Responsible-Accountable-Consulted-Informed) is extremely helpful for project management of all kinds.

At the same time, every community has a god or goddess whose style is thoroughly unique and whose personality lends magic to the organization. We must listen, adapt, and nurture as well as we can while getting through our work. One of the schools I attended has a famous story about a new administrator who tried unsuccessfully to discharge an octogenarian teacher who had influenced generations of students. That’s when I heard the phrase from someone much wiser than me, “Don’t shoot your gods.”

Architects are Great Party Guests

Assembling the SMPS Boston interview of Robert Brown, managing director of Perkins+Will, was a formidable feat, due to the many topics we covered in half an hour. As I read and re-read the transcript, I was reminded how likable architects typically are, and that they are often great conversationalists.

Growing up , my parents had friends who were architects, and they have lasted as friends for decades. I have a few, now, too. They are creative of course, and often overflowing with observations on their environment and life.  They are futurists, visionaries, grand schemers, too. Sometimes so fiercely analytical as to be caustic, but usually with a sense of humor that softens the blow. A great dinner party should include a few architects, artists, musicians, writers, and journalists.

7 Lessons Learned Managing People

  1. People management takes time. Occasional team meetings have to be scheduled into the calendar. Regular or irregular, take your pick.
  2. Subordinates may not be adept at expressing what they want in a direct manner so the manager has to take the time to pull it out of them.
  3. Natural leaders emerge from surprising places so the manager should ask peers to review one another and disclose the most valuable players. The manager cannot always see what others see.
  4. All people hate to be micromanaged.
  5. Micromanagement is a form of exercising control. Some managers may crave control when they sense that subordinates are withholding information.
  6. “Getting back to work” seems like a strategy but it only delays the reckoning.
  7. The more effective strategy is to take the time to have team meetings. If the staff are quite junior, it must be explained to them at such meetings how critical it is that they share information. A manager cannot act if she is not fully informed.

Promotion with a Powdered Wig

One of my first marketing jobs required me to travel to various U.S. cities promoting a line of European flooring. It was not a high volume product for the company, rather it served as a door-opener for the products that drove more revenue and profit. Niche specialty products of excellent quality can accomplish this because they provoke interest even if their price point or perceived maintenance requirements keeps them relatively unknown outside high design circles. For a trade show of a couple days’ duration, I had to wear an 18th-century-style dress made of the flooring product. The European stylists gave me a powdered wig to complete the look. That was truly memorable marketing.

Cheap Date

The Appalachian Mountain Club can count two new fans today. Paying the non-member price of $1 per person, a guide shepherded us (and 20 others) on a 5-mile hike in a nature preserve. The hike cleared our minds, transfused our blood, and delivered a renewed sense of wonder. Who knew such great fun could be had in the city on the cheap?

With so many en…

With so many engagements, there was a skill to navigating the circuit. Hugh Jackman said he learned from the master: George Clooney. “I watched him one day at an event like this — it was packed,” Mr. Jackman said… “And he never stopped moving, ever.”

He demonstrated with an elegant shuffle-pivot step. “You go, ‘Hi, thank you, wonderful to see you, thank you so much.’ And you get really close, and really direct eye contact. And then he’s gone, before they get their phone out,” Mr. Jackman said. “I thought, that’s the way to go.”

From the New York Times this week, a good description of celebrity-caliber networking.

Dyads, or the Two Sides to Every Story

The Critic and the Creative

In my early years, I was groomed to be a writer or an artist as much as a business person. Creative writing is supposed to take a lot of time, whereas business writing must generally turn around very quickly. The best formula for excellent business writing I have found (over many years) is to work creatively on Day One, sleep on it, and edit or criticize on Day Two. The best way to do the creative work very quickly is write a “sh*tty first draft” as Anne Lamott identified it (in Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life). If you allow yourself to write a bad first draft, you get the critic out of the way on Day One. Go home and sleep. On Day Two, invite the critic back to polish up the draft and voilà, at least in the case of business writing, your memo is ready to send out.

The Maker and the Manager

This is the name of the dyad often best suited to running a company. A creative head and a managerial head. A product head and a market-oriented head. A subject matter expert and a business expert. Two is a nice number at the top of a company, because this formative bond of trust sets the example for the whole organization.

Feel the Pain and Breathe Deep

Do you breathe into pain? I am generally reluctant to take pain medicine. I even gave birth without an epidural so you know I am committed. (Or should be committed!) Yesterday I had the norovirus or something like it. It was brutal, but at first, I didn’t take any painkillers. I just breathed into the pain to experience it and learn from it. Rather than get up and try to move mountains, it can be useful to ride each painful wave. Some say pain is a map, directing you to new places.

Sowing the Seeds of Accountability with RACI

It is impossible to imagine embarking on a new project without a few important techniques at the ready. If the project manager notes that one or more roles are murky, or that grumbling and unhappiness are bubbling up, the first one to apply should be the RACI matrix. Perhaps there isn’t a single person — one and only one — accountable for the project. Or perhaps someone who previously was responsible for a similar project should in the present project be merely informed. Clarify each person’s role in RACI terms and suddenly the project takes off with wings. Here is RACI, unpacked by Wikipedia:

Responsible: Those who do the work to achieve the task. There is at least one role with a participation type of responsible.

Accountable (also approver or final approving authority): The one ultimately answerable for the correct and thorough completion of the deliverable or task, and the one who delegates the work to those responsible. In other words, an accountable must sign off (approve) on work that responsible provides. There must be only one accountable specified for each task or deliverable.

Consulted (sometimes counsel): Those whose opinions are sought, typically subject matter experts; and with whom there is two-way communication.

Informed: Those who are kept up-to-date on progress, often only on completion of the task or deliverable; and with whom there is just one-way communication.